The plot continues to thicken in the Russia investigation. This morning Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors publicly released a new indictment that they have filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Here is a copy of the charging document. The defendant is Alex Van der Zwaan, an attorney who worked at the London office of Skadden Arps. The indictment accuses him of making false statements to the FBI and Mueller’s team during a November 2017 interview with federal investigators in Washington D.C. The Washington Post is reporting that Van der Zwaan is the son-in-law of a Russian businessman. According to the indictment, Van der Zwaan lied about communications he had in September 2016 with Richard Gates, a close associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and “Person A,” who is unidentified in the indictment. Intriguingly, Mueller's indictment also accuses the defendant of deleting emails sought by Mueller, including one the defendant exchanged with “Person A.” This would certainly suggest that Mueller was able to track the emails down from other sources. The Van der Zwaan charging document is very brief, less than 2 pages in length, but it obviously appears there is a lot more to come in this story.
The Van der Zwaan indictment comes on the heels of the special counsel’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Here is a copy of Friday’s indictment of the Russians. It makes for riveting and deeply disturbing reading. It provides further evidence of the massive scale of Russia's effort to undermine American democracy. The indictment is also interesting because of the surprising and creative nature of the charges. As former White House counsel and leading campaign finance expert Bob Bauer pointed out on the Just Security blog over the weekend, Mueller’s indictment of the Russians does not allege a direct violation of federal campaign finance laws. Instead, the indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. After reading the indictment, it is clearer than ever that there are many, many more shoes to drop in Mueller’s investigation.
As I wrote on Sunday, even if Mueller turns up evidence that President Trump himself has committed crimes, I don’t think the Constitution permits the special counsel to indict the president directly. In my opinion, the House of Representatives is the only institution authorized to bring charges against a sitting president.
But I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I am by Robert Mueller’s handling of the investigation thus far. He is a person who deserves the nation's respect and admiration. Since leading a Marine rifle platoon in combat in Vietnam in the late 1960s, Mueller has devoted his life to serving our country in selfless fashion. At a time when our nation’s political institutions are being tested like never before, it is reassuring to know that, for the time being at least, we have a truly first-class attorney and deeply honorable person in the role of special counsel. Long may he continue in that role.
UPDATE: The Washington Post is now reporting that Van der Zwaan will plead guilty in court this afternoon to the false statement charge. That is apparently why the charging document is styled as a "criminal information" filing rather than a traditional indictment. At a minimum, therefore, it would seem that the list of defendants cooperating (and, presumably, sharing valuable information) with the special counsel's office continues to grow.